A few months ago, I began working at my daughter’s elementary school. In short, the job is a blessing. Elementary school kids are endlessly amusing and pretty amazing.
When I got to school this morning, snow lightly drifting through the air, the student for whom I’m usually responsible was absent. Instead, my day was a series of fortunate events.
As the principal jotted down my hourly assignments on a sticky note, I sat on the opposite side of her desk. The first couple tasks on the list were familiar, but the afternoon entry appeared to be, “surprise in library.” I silently wondered who I was supposed to surprise in the library. When I picked up the sticky note, it read, “supervise in library.” Which made much more sense.
First, I met with a student who recently moved to the U. S. He’s learning English, both from school and John Cena, so we work together on recognizing letters and sounds. He teaches me Arabic words and laughs at my pronunciation. I ask him to think of a word that starts with “w,” and his face lights up as he says “Wal-Mart.” Aside from John Cena, is there anything more American than Wal-Mart?
Our conversations require a lot of pretending to understand each other, which is possibly the secret to world peace. As I walk him back to the classroom, I tell him he’s doing a good job of learning his letters. I’m not sure if he knows my name, but when he says, “Teacher, thank you,” my heart melts at the edges like grilled cheese.
After that, I’m off to meet with another student to review math. English is her second language as well, but her conversational skills are impressive. Last week I asked her to pronounce her name, but today I can’t recall how all those consonants go. As we work through math problems, she watches the clock, asking how many more minutes in our session. She seems more anxious than bored, anxious to get to her next class. She’s a great kid. I send her off on time.
When I return from lunch, it’s time to “surprise in the library,” I mean, “supervise in the library.” So, it turns out I’m supervising something like detention, but not really detention. I’m not sure what it’s called, maybe “reflection time.” Anyway, I’m supervising some students who apparently need time to reflect on their choices.
An hour of contemplation is right up my alley – on the surface. However, I’m nervous because discipline is not my strong suit. It is, in fact, my weak suit. I resolve to not smile, to keep eye contact minimal. I resolve to withhold warmth, to be a cold, cold statue. This is hard because my personal mission is to extend kindness to every student every chance I get. Anyway, a couple hours of stony silence later, it’s time to release the contemplatives and report to my last post of the day.
My final station is a kindergarten class where I’ll be supervising dismissal, which is almost scarier than reflection time. I must make sure each tiny munchkin gets where they need to go. As the teacher introduces me to the class before she leaves, a little girl says in a little voice, “Welcome to our classroom.” She is straight out of Central Casting, Adorable Kid Division, and I appreciate the welcome. Dismissal goes smoothly, in spite of fat, wet snowflakes falling from the sky.
I smile as I collect my favorite fourth grader and head to our car. I remember what the Rolling Stones sang: “You can’t always get what you want / But if you try sometimes, well you might find / You get what you need.” Although I didn’t know it, after many years as a stay-at-home mom, what I needed was a job where I get to help children in small ways every single day.
And that’s why I had a good day.
Thanks for reading! I wrote this several weeks ago and am now enjoying winter break. Dear Reader, I wish you only the best in 2019!